4 YEARS LATER
Chocolate-covered almond toffee deems one of the best ways to uplift Sheridan's spirits temporarily — buried beneath the fact that her true spirits remain in declivity. When she was a little girl, her mother used to always prepare her the best chocolate-covered almond toffee she ever knew — and James knew it, too. He only presented her with the store-bought substitution, because he has no clue how to make it as special as a defunct heart could. Although it never was as good as the homemade kind, she appreciated the thought. To them, though, those chocolate covered almond toffee days are over.
Dusk swathes the city. This evening's ordinary city lights and sounds don't seem as ordinary to James as he staggers onto the busy street, bottle in hand. A fast approaching car honks in disconcertment.
"Watch it!" the driver yells, one hand gesturing out his open window. He then controls his car to come to a screeching halt.
A line of cars behind his stop as well and honk at the inappropriate delay. James doesn't look at the cars as he continues to stumble across the road, but he lifts the arm closest to them high. In this way, he's trying to balance out his state of mind with the commotion he has unintentionally caused. At a moment when the horns seem to get louder; his efforts are accompanied by frustration. In the middle of the road, he uncontrollably lurches toward the hood of the closest car. After recovering himself as best he can, he closes his eyes as though the continual honking is calming music to his ears. Headlights have been shining on him and, in the spotlight of it all, he taps his index finger on his closed lips a few times, his pinky held up as well. He hisses over the slightly bent finger, spit ejecting through his teeth. "Shh!"
As the horns blast through the streets, he lifts the same arm again, over his head, and waves it. Clearly, he isn't pleased with the noise. At this point, some people step out of their cars.
"Hey, asshole! Get the fuck outta the street!" a big-muscled man shouts, standing behind his open car door.
Others yell in complaint.
"I dun’t needthis!" James shouts back over the voices and horns, nearly crying it appears.
With that, he runs off the street and around the block. It’s exhilarating and wispy, he thinks, but doesn’t say within himself; it’s a feeling he’s used to; a feeling his world is used to — as the illusion of promise. A few more clumsy steps now and he'll be home. He scrambles along the brick wall there for support, and runs for his dear life. He doesn't know why, however. In some off way, he feels like he should be. Perhaps it's the agitation he had endured from the street. When he gets to the end of the one he’s on, he falls over and his bottle flies out of his hand and smashes on the concrete in its paper bag. He groans in what could just as well be pain as could be disappointment. There, he lies, in the haze of the moment; his scattered brain on the sidewalk, too intoxicated to even attempt to stand.
At this time, Sheridan stands just outside the front door of their house. The sky is painted with scattering sunlight and a scarce mix of white clouds, streaking across the sky. A twilight glow hits her face, and would reveal to anyone standing before her the worry she possesses. This day manages to capture the very essence of her somewhat unchanged life, before it leaves forever. She wraps her arms around herself, overlapping her unbuttoned stretchy sweater around her waist. Her eyes scan the neighborhood as though seeking hope. I don't have to be out here, she says within, but a part of her disagrees. It's her job as a compassionate girlfriend to. Though, James’ stubbornness and reckless attitude proves to her that she shouldn't. It's his own fault he's roaming aimlessly through the streets, again. Soon it will be dark, and that will determine his possible arrival. It all depends on how drunk he is, really.
Sheridan kisses her teeth as she turns, but as quickly as she does, she turns back. She's indecisive. Some days she feels like he is her dead child. He used to make her forget, even if it was for a paused moment in time, filled with deadly nightshades and their sweet aromas. Lately though, he is the filler; the one who shows her what would have been if Michael lived. She doesn't want to believe that she would have raised a dysfunctional family, but having James as the only real reference to it, it's hard not to veer her mind onto the contrary.
"Gone again?" a womanly voice emerges then.
Sheridan turns her head to see her next door neighbor. In her wits, she bends over to pick up the head of a hose while looking up at Sheridan with the tiniest smirk on her middle aged face. When she stands up, she tilts her head a little — as though with concern — but she's still smirking. Over the years, Sheridan has grown that much more lethargic. It could be due to her general decline in relationships and luck ever since the death of her son, but she doesn't notice it as much as anyone around her would. About to turn around, she eyes the woman's entire body. Her khakis don't match her flip-flops and shirt, and her hair is in a disheveled up do.
"Yeah," Sheridan finally replies in a low tone, and with that, she turns and pushes the front door — that had been left ajar — open.
"Maybe you should put him on a leash," her neighbor chuckles, beginning to wrap the hose around her elbow and hand.
Sheridan stops and looks over at her, her eyes filled with exasperation. Is she mocking me? They wonder. She believes it is none of her business what happens to James or how she decides to tame him. For the past year, this woman has gotten on her nerves.
It was midnight, and Sheridan was sitting on the stone steps that led to her house. She was sipping coffee as autumn leaves rustled in the wind around her. Her neighbor came out of her house with a set of car keys in hand. She stopped when she saw Sheridan, and smiled as though she hadn’t seen her in months.
"What are you doing out here at this time of night?" she asked, putting her hands on her hips, still smiling.
Sheridan slowly turned her head as she took another sip of coffee. After taking the sip, she sat there staring at the woman blankly for a moment before speaking. "I could ask you the same thing." Her deep, erotic voice floated through the night air.
"Oh," her neighbor exclaimed, throwing her hands up at her head level. Her keys jingled in the night like chimes in the wind. "Billy. He was having a sleepover, and got homesick." — Sheridan turned her head and looked at the row of houses ahead of her, suddenly not interested, while continuing to drink from her mug — "He was on the phone. Oh! He was crying and everything. Kids, huh? They can be..." — Sheridan began to stand up, ignoring the sense of unnecessary boast — "Well..." — She walked up the steps to her front door — "Sheridan," her neighbor called, frowning; noticing her trying to escape. Sheridan stopped and looked over at her listlessly. "You haven't told me why you were out here. C'mon." She waited, smiling again, and her hands were on her sides.
Sheridan raised her mug with the hand farthest from her neighbor as she pressed her lips together. She didn’t feel the need to explain to her that James was out there on the streets again, and that she was scanning the roads for any trace of him while thinking of a way to find him effectively, so this was an indication of exactly what she wanted her to think she was doing. Simply drinking coffee. Without waiting for her neighbor to respond in any way, she walked inside and closed the door.
"Don't you two talk things out?" Sheridan's neighbor had asked, with the afternoon sun beating on her winter jacket.
She began to shovel the snow from her walkway and glance up at Sheridan a couple times, waiting for a reply. Sheridan had been wearing one of James' hoodies and a pair of mini shorts, sneering at the side of her neighbors head when turned away.
Sheridan was standing on the curb of her street, with her hands on her hips. She was looking out around the intersecting street for James. Most houses had a colorful display of blossoming flowers and green grass. Her neighbor came jogging by, wearing track pants with a sweater tied around her waist and a tank top. She was flushed, glistening with sweat, and panting.
"Hey, Sheridan!" she exclaimed. Even though she had stopped to talk, she didn't stop jogging.
"Hi," Sheridan greeted in return, having only glanced at her. Clearly, she wasn't enthusiastic about her presence.
"Can't get him to just cooperate, huh? Have you ever considered couples therapy or AA?"
Sheridan gawped sideways at her.
"Maybe," Sheridan says to her neighbor in reply. "But I'm not interested in your input, thanks," she wants to add, but flashes a soft smile instead. The smile emphasises her lack of interest, without her realizing it. She walks into the house.